Friday, January 13, 2017

First impression of Cambodia, and tips in and around Siem Reap

angor wat temple

"Tuk - Tuk! Tuk - Tuk!" "Massage Sir!" "Sir food, good food!" Tonal voices of Khmer, asking you for taking their services in a desperate manner first created an annoying feeling. Constant bugging you for services that you didn’t need or at least very apparent that you were not at all interested, created an impression that was not joyful after all. However, when I lived there for a few days and observed the life of people, I understood how poor they were! It’s a compulsion to earn their living by this constant bugging, there’s no alternative for them.

Life in Seam Reap was far different from my anticipation. Every tourist seemed to be like a dollar making machine. They saw one and jump on it. In spite of everything, people were gentle, and accept their lives joyfully. I was very surprised to see how in Cambodian border, in front of government officials, thugs tried to cheat tourists. Surprisingly, the building where some unknown Khmer guides you to take your visa on arrival, was the fake one. When some people would finally arrive at the real building, you had to pay another $30 for their visas. I was warned by my friend about this scam, so I had already secured e-visa beforehand, albeit paid extra $7 for processing charge.



Beer at Pub Street

Siem Reap is quintessential backpackers’ destination. After spending much time in Khao San Road in Thailand, I was not desiring the same thing in Cambodia, but my first impression of Siem Reap was astounding. There were hotels, restaurants with catchy taglines, hostels, bars and everything reflected a feeling of alienation, especially when I had an entirely different mindset while traveling to Cambodia. There were ubiquitous pubs, restaurants, lots of hotels, a few hostels, and of course those annoying massage parlors.

There was an alley called ‘Pub Street’, pretty much literal by its name. While walking along the street, I was frequently approached by street peddlers for different stuff, starting from postcards, souvenirs, tourist guidebooks and even drugs. And there were girls who approached me and "guaranteed" “happy ending”. I was very surprised to see a 14-15 year old boy working as a waiter in a restaurant with fantastic English and etiquette.


What you can do in Siem Reap

Angor Temples

Ta Phrom Angor Temples
Ta Phrom
The main, and probably for most of tourists, only attraction in Siem Reap is Angor Temples. Even if you aren’t really a heritage person, the temples will mesmerize you with their dumbfounding architecture and fantastic ambiance. The temples and surroundings are peaceful, ideal for any shutter happy individual and if you really want to see more, you can take a guided tour that will ensure you don’t miss the hidden charm. I particularly amazed by the trees in and around the temples.

ta phrom in angor wat temples

I and my two companions, 50 something Canadian couple, hired a Tuk Tuk and went for the temple tour. We started in the late morning as we had planned to see the sunset but unfortunately cloudy weather and sudden rain disappointed us. You can also hire a bicycle but it will take lots of effort, especially in the summers to ride the whole temple complex. Another way is to hire a bicycle ($1) and also hire a tuk tuk and hop in with your bike and start your temple tour journey from the ticket counter.

The full tuk tuk temple tour will charge you around $15 but if you want it to leave it at the ticket counter, it will be around $5. There are total five main temples, but many small relics as well. Don’t miss Angor Wat (the biggest one), Bayon and Ta Prohm. If you find time and wish to spend $20 more, you can take another day for Angkor Thom and other temples.


Hire a tuk tuk tour

tuk tuk in siem reap cambodia
Ubiquitous Tuk-Tuk
If you are not very comfortable in riding bikes, hire tuk-tuk for the whole day and see some popular places like Floating Village, Tonle Sap Lake, Banteay Srey and other places. I was quite shocked to see the mechanics of tuk-tuk; it is a 100 CC scooter, which is attached with a bogey, acting like a local taxi in the city. There is no public transport except tuk tuk so there is no option left for you. The good thing is there are plenty of them, so you can bargain hard to get a good price for hire. I had learnt one thing that is whatever they quoted I said exactly half of it, and then they came down to a good rate.

Indulge in fish massage

fish massage siem reap cambodia

If you don’t want to splurge in spa, there is a good alternative for your feet. There are dozens of shops lined around Pub Street, offering fish massage. If you are wondering what is that, let me tell you it’s not a great thing but it claims that tiny fishes actually nibble your dead skin from your toes and give relaxation. Well, I haven’t tried it, you can obviously.

Try Khmer cuisines


I liked Cambodian foods than Thailand but many people don’t agree with me. You can try a traditional cooking class where your chef guides you through ingredients, cooking style and serving. The most famous is Amok (fish and chicken), also you try green mango salad and spring rolls. Remember if you are not comfortable in eating raw vegetables, order fried spring rolls.

Take a bike tour to nearby villages

I did it and I enjoyed it. I hired a bike for $1 and went straight to Siem Reap War Memorial. From there I traveled to nearby villages and lost somewhere. Then I discovered a hidden resort in the middle of village with superb ambiance and free wifi. Cambodian villages are same like Indian North Eastern villages, same landscape, same vegetation, and same smell of earth. That was my best experience in Siem Reap apart from 4 hours dip in swimming pool.

Tro u -  Cambodian string instrument
Tro u -  Cambodian string instrument
Buy souvenirs

I know buying souvenirs is not exactly in the list of a traveler, but the tempting things in old market with such cheap prices compelled me to buy something for my home. You can go to Old Market (Phsar Chas) where you can get lots of things such as paintings, shawls, local made vessels, Buddha statues, bamboo craft, and numerous other things. I had bought one slingshot, one Cambodian violin, chopsticks, a coconut handbag and some silk scarfs for my neighbors.

Tips to travel in and around Siem Reap

First and foremost tips if you are coming through Poipet, don’t ever listen to any locals. Follow backpackers and team up with other travelers and find the actual visa center. It is just a 10 minute walk passing a few desolate casinos.

In the bus station, do not change your dollar. In Siem Reap there is no need to exchange money because everybody accepts dollars.

bar pubs in pub street siem reap
Bar @ Pub Street
Wait for some time in the bus station, or if you are alone, team up with 3-4 travelers and hire a taxi. It will take $10- $12 (in 2015) for one passenger. A bus will charge you less but then it will take lots of hours to reach the city.

The taxi will take leave you at a place where you will find a smiling tuk-tuk driver saying he will take you free to your hostel/hotel. Don’t fall prey to it, because it is an exchange for next day Angor Temple tour, which he will charge anything around $20-$25. If you don’t have much luggage, you can walk for 15 minutes and reach the Pub Street Area (Sok San road) where you will find hordes of hotels, restaurants, cheap hostels everything.

Pub Street restaurants are expensive; you can get the same food in a cheaper price in Sok San Restaurants.

Bayon Temple
Always bargain hard while buying souvenirs.

Don’t fall prey for prostitutes. In the night, there are lots of locals talk about ‘Boom Boom’,, ‘Happy Ending’, weed etc.

Beer is cheaper than coke or juice. Should I need to give a tip on that?!?!

Siem Reap is relatively safe, still book hostel that has personal locker facility.


There is no public transportation, so you either hire tuk-tuk or rent a bike and explore. If the weather condition is fine, you can also take a walking tour.

You really don't need additional SIM for Internet. Every restaurant, hotel, hostels has free WiFi.

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3 comments:

  • VJ Sharma says:
    April 17, 2016 at 10:59 AM

    Wow, such a detailed post. Great details for everyone who wants to explore this part of the world.

  • Anonymous says:
    October 30, 2016 at 1:13 AM

    Hi, I'm in siem right now!😊 wondering how much you got the violin?

  • Shubhajit Chakraborty says:
    October 31, 2016 at 1:10 AM

    Hi Anonymous,

    It was $12

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